Military Capabilities

Pentagon Budget 2021: US Air Force plans aerial refuelling tanker cuts

12 February 2020

The US Air Force wants to reduce its KC-10 tanker fleet in FY 2021 in a move that the service believes will free up money for modernisation priorities. Source: US Air Force

Key Points

  • The US Air Force wants to reduce its tanker fleet
  • This proposal is subject to negotiations and approval by Congress

The US Air Force (USAF) wants to reduce its aerial refuelling tanker fleet by 13 aircraft in fiscal year (FY) 2021 in a move that would position it to have the necessary capabilities in the future, according to a service official.

The USAF, in its FY 2021 budget request released on 10 February, said it intends to reduce its active service tanker fleet by 20 aircraft and wants to reduce its McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender fleet from 56 aircraft to 40. It also plans to reduce its Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker fleet from 167 platforms to 159. Conversely, the USAF wants to increase its new-generation Boeing KC-46A Pegasus fleet from 40 aircraft to 44.

In the Air Force Reserve, the service plans to add its first 12 KC-46As while reducing its KC-135 fleet from 67 to 62 aircraft. The Air National Guard (ANG) would keep the same amount of tankers in FY 2021 as it had the previous fiscal year: 164 KC-135s and 12 KC-46As.

Major General John Pletcher, deputy assistant secretary for financial management and comptroller, told reporters on 10 February that the service considers this risk in tanker capacity acceptable as long as it never goes below 479 total tankers available. This FY 2021 budget request would provide 493 tankers.

Additionally, Maj Gen Pletcher said that this tanker allocation will allow the service to continue testing on the troubled KC-46A so that when the USAF does complete its Pegasus fixes, it is able to make those aircraft fully mission capable and immediately enter them into service.

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